A post by Pat

Tammy talked about Harry Reid’s support for funding cowboy poetry on the show yesterday. Without that funding tens of thousands of people would cease to exist according to Reid.

I’m wondering if any of the cowboy poets would have some discouraging words for the plight of a bison herd in South Dakota. Probably not, the owner, Maurice Wilder, has something in common with the poets. He too receives government subsidies. Over two million taxpayer dollars went to Wilder, a Florida real estate developer, for his farms and ranches in seven states. His South Dakota herd of bison were found to be malnourished and wandering off in search of food. The neglect was going on for years. The herd is now under the jurisdiction of the local sheriff.

Irresponsible farm subsidies for schemers is emblematic of government waste and incompetence. The program sounds reasonable, helping small farmers smooth out the erratic perils of their profession. We can’t get along without food. In practice it is a few large entities that receive most of the subsidies. At the fringe lie fat cats such as Mr. Wilder gaming the system. That system is a labyrinth of overlapping payouts from various departments inviting fraud. Loans are granted that require less in payback than was borrowed. Defaults are high.

We are told that funding for things such as cowboy poets might as well continue because the sums are paltry, sparrow’s belches in a storm as crusty Alan Simpson describes it. Yet we are also told $60 billion is too much to cut out of $3.7 trillion. The recovering economy will not be able to withstand withdrawing so much government spending.

Each party wants the other to go first with the tough cuts. The Democrats want to count reducing fictitious spending as cuts. The Republicans hesitate believing they’re walking on thin ice. Doing what is necessary is too politically dangerous. It was the Republicans who benefited from the public outrage over the debt and government spending but after the election their instinct was to pull back from promises of cutting $100 billion. Well, uh, sure but not right now.

The political class has made a living from over promising and over spending with the view that tomorrow never comes. Pick a program and it is either too insignificant or too important to remove from the budget. We are lectured as though we are ignorant children that the responsible thing to do is keep raising the debt ceiling. It is, as ever, the strategy of the political class to postpone the day of reckoning no matter the damage done to the future. They think in some delusional way it is the fault of the American people that politicians can’t cut the budget. Someone somewhere will be unhappy about a dollar dropped and that could lead to a lost vote in the next election. That is too much of a risk for the politicians. For both parties the next election is more precious than the next generation.

How to get the message across if elections are more like a game than serious instructions to elected officials? Poetry? I feel it is my civic duty to offer Harry Reid my ode to Congress for free.

Home of the Deranged

Oh give out a loan
Where sick buffalo roam
Where careers flourish if dopes pay
Where seldom is heard
A responsible word
And the sky will fall but not today

Maybe we need to include poems with our tax returns.

Related reading:

Court impounds Wilder Ranch buffalo

Besides his Tampa Bay, Fla., real estate holdings, Wilder, 71, has farms and ranches in seven states. He has received more than $2.3 million in farm subsidies since 2005, including $108,000 for his farm operation in Corson County.

Top 20 farm subsidy recipients 1995 – 2009

Recipients of Total USDA Subsidies from farms in United States totaled $246,718,000,000 from 1995-2009.

Farm subsidy primer

Despite the rhetoric of “preserving the family farm,” the vast majority of farmers do not benefit from federal farm subsidy programs. Small commodity farmers qualify for a mere pittance, while producers of meat, fuits, and vegetables are almost completely left out of the subsidy game (i.e. they can sign up for subsidized crop insurance and often receive federal disaster payments).
The subsidized crops benefit from an increasingly complex layering of subsidy programs begun in the 1930s and altered haphazardly ever since. The primary subsidy system today consists of the following elements…

  • Direct payments are paid at a set rate every year regardless of conditions.
  • Counter-cyclical payments are triggered when market prices fall below certain thresholds
  • A new revenue assurance program provides for overall profitability for a given crop

  • Marketing loans offer very favorable terms whereby farmers can realize tremendous gains through loan deficiency payments (LDPs) and commodity certificates.
  • Disaster payments recoup large losses due to natural phenomena. And the government subsidizes crop insurance to further insulate farmers from risk

Fraud and Abuse in Federal Programs

Fraud and abuse in the farm programs takes many forms. Congress puts limits on subsidy payments to particular farmers, but farmers create complex business structures to get around those limits. Farmers are supposed to pay back loans, but farm loan programs have high delinquency rates.

Sloppy administration by the USDA makes cheating easier. A 2007 GAO report found that the USDA paid $1.1 billion in subsidies over six years to 170,000 deceased individuals. There is also the problem of “emergency” farm payments being handed out willy-nilly. After adverse events such as droughts, Congress often dishes out emergency payments to farmers who don’t need them or who have not even asked for them.59 In addition, some farmers will claim to have experienced crop damage even when they haven’t in order to receive subsidy payments.

A 2007 discussion prior to passage of the Farm Bill. Maurice Wilder explains why he should get subsidies. The $300 billion bill passed in 2008 over two vetoes by President Bush

Congress passes farm bill over Bush veto

Bush said he objected to its continued subsidies for the wealthy and its use of budget gimmicks to hide a $20 billion increase in spending.

Lawmakers spare farm subsidies from budget cuts.

Obama views them ripe for cutting; Republicans want to hold off until 2012.
“With farm prices as strong as they are today, we think it is appropriate to ask the most successful farmers to consider perhaps receiving a little bit less than they have been receiving,” said Vilsack at a recent budget hearing.

Republicans would prefer to tackle the politically sensitive issue next year when the 2007 farm bill expires, requiring negotiations and passage of a replacement. Many Republicans in the lower chamber, though committed budget cutters, hale from farm states where subsidy cuts would not be appreciated.

–Oh look, a budget cut.

Obama’s USDA Less Transparent Than Bush’s

Unfortunately for our 2010 update, the data that provided such a revelatory account of just who receives the billions paid out in the maze of federal farm subsidy programs is no longer available to us.

​That’s because Congress changed the wording of the 1614 provision in the 2008 farm bill from USDA “shall” release such data to USDA “may” release such data. USDA has since decided not to release the information. According to USDA officials, the database can cost as much as $6.7 million to produce, and Congress did not appropriate money to compile the database

​USDA says that they’d like to be as transparent as the last time (in 2007, under the Bush administration), but that Congress didn’t give them $6.7 million to do so. Congress, however, did appropriate $50 million as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 for USDA computer upgrades that, in the agency’s own words, “is a priority modernization effort that will transform the way FSA (Farm Service Agency, the USDA division that cuts the checks) delivers farm program services and benefits to producers, farmers and ranchers.”

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2 Comments | Leave a comment
  1. noflyzone says:

    how does one tell if a bison is undernorished?

  2. Maynard says:

    Like breaking an addiction, it will be painful to stop the endless spending. The representatives perceive, probably correctly, that whoever does the right thing will be blamed for that pain, and punished. They see their best chance of personal survival is to keep the money flowing at all cost. Maybe catastrophe can somehow be postponed. Or, when it can be postponed no longer, they can claim to have been “helping” people as much as they could through tough times.

    I would like to take a cue from the Greens and every other cause that’s “for the children”. We must scream the argument that we’re leaving our kids a bleak future under a smothering burden of debt. Hey, every 3-year-old out there, you should know that Obama spent another thousand dollars of your future earnings just last month. What sort of a parent would do that? If we can’t shame ourselves and our compulsive spenders into cleaning up their act, we deserve to die horribly.

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